I’ve written a lot of words about cricket this summer, which is not a thing I would have predicted a year ago.
There are varying reasons why that’s happened—a major pro sports league planted its flag in Grand Prairie, said major pro sports league nailed the game atmosphere out of the gate, we needed an intro paragraph for some really sick photos Bret Redman shot—but there’s one common denominator.
Cricket is both the world’s second-most popular sport and by far the biggest one yet to gain traction in the United States. Its nascent attempt to do so, in the world’s most sports-saturated nation, on top of an existing fanbase that’s overwhelmingly South Asian, will be one of the most important sports stories in America over the next decade-plus.
We live in the epicenter of that experiment. That’s because Major League Cricket made North Texas its base of operations and commissioned HKS to construct the finest cricket venue in the country in the shell of an old minor league ballpark in Grand Prairie. And also because, as announced on Wednesday, a second outfit called the National Cricket League is launching later this year with a home base in North Dallas along with a Dallas franchise in the six-team field.
According to Arun Agarwal, an NCL chairman, advisor, and part-owner of the Dallas franchise, this isn’t a case of piggybacking so much as two different consortiums landing on a similar idea, and the NCL group happening to get off the ground second. (If Agarwal’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s also president of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board. The guy is busy!) In most other sports, this would spell doom. In cricket, it merely spells rescheduling: players work for their national teams first and franchised competitions second, which means that competitors can suit up for any number of teams if their schedules accommodate it. That’s how MLC players could theoretically show up in South Florida in December, when the NCL will hold its first nine-day tournament.
If they do, they’ll be treated to something Agarwal believes will be very different than what they experienced this summer in Grand Prairie. For starters, there’s the format: sixty strikes, also known as T10. It’s half the length of the popular T20 format Major League Cricket uses, which itself is a fraction of cricket staples like Test (the original multi-day format) or One-Day Invitational (a match played in a day). Major League Cricket matches run around three hours; Agarwal, citing the sixty strikes format, estimates National Cricket League matches will run closer to 90 minutes. That’s a powerful lure to capture attention spans, which is why multiple cricketers I spoke with while reporting my feature for our July issue anticipate T10 and even shorter formats continuing to rise in prominence. It also, Agarwal posits, may help cricket’s chance of being included in the 2028 Olympics, something those within the sport believe could be a watershed moment for helping the sport gain wider traction in the United States.
The second point of differentiation is what’s between the action: entertainment—lots of it. While MLC was minimalist in its off-field approach, NCL is going the other direction, promising “30+ performances from celebrities around the world” in a press release announcing the South Florida tournament, from Bollywood to music and more. If there’s a break in the action, expect some kind of performance to fill the void. “Coachella meets cricket,” Agarwal says.
On the other hand, perhaps the greatest point of overlap is North Texas. Just not Grand Prairie. NCL is leaning into Dallas, from the headquarters to the upcoming franchise all the way down to the construction of a new cricket-friendly multipurpose venue in Dallas County, something Mayor Eric Johnson was eager to tout in a press conference Wednesday as part of his ongoing effort to bring more pro sports to town.
So: more cricket, more cricket stadiums, and more digging into this region as the focal point of cricket’s presence in America. Cool!
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the ongoing question hanging over NCL, MLC, and whoever else may someday join them: this may not work. Yes, MLC did about as well as can be hoped for out of the gate, with sellout crowds on hand to watch the hometown Texas Super Kings. But it was tougher sledding for the other five franchises, all of whom need to build venues in their home markets and cultivate local fanbases of their own. That’s before considering the big-picture battles to grow the sport at every single level in the country and monetize it, too. The most recent parallel is Major League Soccer, a league that required decades to take hold in this country despite having an enormous head start at the grassroots level between the number of players and suitable fields to play on. Flash and fun will only go so far without a foundation underpinning them, and that foundation will be hard-earned.
But someone has to start swinging the hammers, and now a second league has decided it’s up to the task. There’s plenty of time to see how this plays out. And the world’s eyes will be on Dallas as it does.